Desert Track

28 August 2012

It’s about 5 pm and we are between wells 44 and 43 on the Canning Stock Route, our camp for the night. What a glorious day! The sun is just tucking itself behind a dune so it’s cooling down. It is perfect here. So much to tell! I am in awe of this place. We have spent the day bounce bounce bouncing over dune after dune. We have a little run up and landy kicks in and climbs to the top through the deep sand – up we pop for a brief moment unable to see anything over the bonnet. Then we slowley crawl down, usually startling a few birds who duck and weave in front of us for a bit before taking off and chattering away. We are never sure what will be on the other side- spinifex as far as we can see, grand and moody desert oaks, the track rambling off across a dry lake bed or even a ‘valley’ between dunes filled with unlikely flowers in purple, pink and red.

A quick backtrack for a catch up –  When we left Halls Creek a few days ago we went down the Tanami Road (which is the road that if we carried on it would have taken us to Alice Springs) to Wolfe Creek meteorite crater. We were up early for a walk to see the sun rise over the crater. It’s massive at 850 metres across and is very spectacular in the completely flat surrounds. It was amazing watching the sun rise over the lip of the crater and light it up.

Wolfe Creek Meteor crater at sunrise

After sunrise and checking out a few things on landy we made our way 70 km south to Bililuna, a small Aboriginal community that is at the junction of the Tanami Road and Canning Stock Route. It’s a closed community so the only area we were allowed to enter was at the edge of town where the small general store and fuel is.  Bililuna seemed similar to some of the small remote communities we have seen, they have often had the feeling you have left Australia all together and have gone to a developing country. There were dogs all over as well as rubbish strewn around and burnt out cars on the edge of town, heaps of children running around half dressed. I think its part evidence of some of the challenges and part evidence of us seeing a community through our white person eyes- so tidy, children so tidy and answering to parents only, everyone often locked away behind doors rather than out in the open all of the time. Instead we see children who answer to the community, people sitting under trees in the shade for hours at a time, chatting, laughing, arguing etc. As we have experienced elsewhere everyone gave us a wave and we got shy smiles from the children. The signs in the general store of these communities tell a tiny bit of the story. This store had signs saying no sweets are sold in the morning to support the community nutrition program, it also had the usual sign saying ‘no children school age are allowed in the shop during school hours- send them to school!’ There were also the gorgeous drawings and painting from the local primary school of kangaroos and stories and posters advertising a spoting carnival. I must say here I have struggled a lot with how to describe and how much to include in this blog what our impression and observations in indigenous communities. I don’t want to simplify the challenges, tragedy and triumph of whole communities ( where we are mearly passing through and could never start to understand the whole story) or to perpetuate stereotypes that already exist and are so damaging. At the same time we have noticed some of the evidence that poverty, displacement, generational trauma and lack of opportunity and resources has created. This is a big issue in Australia but not anywhere near big enough- there is a 20 year gap in the life span between indigenous and non indigenous Australians. I say its a big issue but as soon as I typed that I wondered is it? I dont know. I know its in the forefront of my mind for months. Many times I have included observations in previous posts only to delete the paragraph. It does not feel right to me to ignore it but feels too big and too complex to include in several sentences in a few blog posts.

Anyway….. Us in Bililuna…. We filled up fuel and water and were off.  Immediately we both felt really excited and so happy we were setting off to do it. We held hands and smiled as we bumped off down the track. Pretty much straight away it became what we were looking forward to, a small two wheel track with grass running down the middle right through the bush.

A few hours later after being shaken to bits we were a little less energetic and enthusiastic and wondering how much we would enjoy it if we went 1300 km at 20km/hour over such awful corrugation! That did not last long though, thankfully.

Not far in we saw a camel. He was right in the middle of the track and it took my mind a few seconds to register him, I was thinking ‘that looks like a camel’ and then ‘oh that is a camel!’  It watched us for a minute and took off running, are camels natural runners? He looked awkward to me, he didn’t move off the track just kept going at a dead run, leg seemingly askew down the middle of the track foaming at the mouth! He finally took off to the side of the track and kept running for ages before slowing down to a trot.

We left Bililuna about 10 in the morning and had not seen anyone, seen seen any tyre tracks on the track and had not heard anything on the UHF radio. Finally about 3 in the afternoon we came upon the first well with water, well 49 and met a lovely group travelling together (most people travel the CSR in more than one vehicle for safety reasons) they were just finishing the route as we were on our first day. They were so enthusiastic and encouraging we felt great after meeting up with them. We saw two other groups and have not seen anyone since. Every so often we get on the radio and say something like “single vehicle travelling south from well 46” or something similar but have not heard anything back. The people we met at Well 49 and the map we have of the CSR both suggest we periodically call out on the radio so other travellers know we are there. There are many spots where you cant see anything ahead of you especially when you pop over a sand dune, you could easily hit head on with someone on the other side.

So here we are at the end of the day and I am really struggling with words to describe and even begin to do justice to this majestic isolated amazing place. I love the silence, the vast openness of it all as well as the minute detail of the spinifex, the tracks of every shape and size on the desert floor in the morning from all that must happen overnight with dingos, camels, lizards and snakes of every size. I love the way the landscape changes seemingly every time we pop up over a dune. I adore the feeling of being so small somewhere so big. Probably about a month ago, somewhere in the Kimberly I met a women who said her and her husband did a trip though the Simpson Desert a few years ago and she said she felt overwhelmed and freaked out by the feeling of isolation. Right when they were in the middle she felt nervous that there was nothing and nobody around. I didn’t know how I would feel. After all there is not much to do its mostly the track itself that is the doing. We spend most of the day on the track and don’t actually go very far, its slow going. I also didn’t know how I would feel about the isolation. I love it. I feel big. I feel small. It’s a remarkable place. I have no doubt if landy broke down it may soon feel like it was closing in on us! I really didn’t know what to expect as far as how many people we would see but I assumed there would be a fair few out here, I guess I thought we would see or hear someone every day. Obviously not.

The wells are brilliant. Many of them are ruins so really there is not much to look at but each time we arrive at one I remember there was a time when people were walking (or riding) this track with cattle and none of the luxuries we have- a bush shower, shade, fresh food in our fridge, a UHF radio and sat phone to get help if needed. We enjoyed the first well we got water from, Well 46. We got our trusty red bucket out and opened the doors to the well and saw a large snake living in there, waiting for a lizard or something to happen in. We dropped the bucket down, it hit the water and tipped over perfectly to fill with water and then we brought it up to fill our shower, splash our face and wash our filthy feet. We left a little in the old trough for the birds.

Magic……

1 Sept 2012

We are in Port Headland parked on a concrete slab at the caravan park. It feels to me another world and as far as it could be from where we have been. I was very engrossed with the  desert and people and artificial light and noise seems a bit of an assault.  As Olly has said we came upon a few hundred km of wide dirt road that was to be our way out. I felt really disappointed as we thought we had a few more nights ‘out there’ and it took a few hours for us both to perk up. Port Headland is a mining town in the extreme. There are road trains (large trucks with 3 or 4 trailers behind them), big piles of salt being mined and every second vehicle has mine writing and a safety flag on it. There is also a BHP playground, BHP art gallery, BHP cinema etc.

We are planning to go to Karijni National Park next for some walking and did not plan to spend the night here but turns out we needed a new battery so got one this afternoon so ended up staying. Im so so glad we did not discover what the strange smell that came and went over the past few days was until today we would have been so nervous! Instead we carried on blissfully unaware. Anyway this morning we gave landy a tidy- brushed out some of the dust and spinifex and tidied ourselves as well. Something about being around other people makes you realise you smell and we suddenly felt the urge to brush our hair and put new clothes on!

Landy was great, not so much as a puncture. We have promised her a break from the extreme bouncing (over the dunes) and bumps (over the corrugation) of the past 6 weeks or so and some TLC in Perth. She deserves it. My husband is amazing too. He keeps us going and we simply could not do this trip if it weren’t for him. He is always checking the fluid level of something, tightening something else and fixing something that has bounced apart. All with a smile and a fair bit of stress.

The Stock Route was one of the most amazing things I have ever experienced. So beautiful, so stark, so delicate and such a delicious powerful feeling of isolation. I will always remember waking up to complete silence and smiling as we watched to sunrise from our bed.

L

Near Wolfe Creek

Olly having a look at Well 49

Near Breadon Pool

Camp night 1

the track

up a dune

Well 46

dust storm

the track

track

good morning!

our blue tongue friend

5 thoughts on “Desert Track

  1. Hi you two, have been waiting with baited breath for your latest blog.
    Wow wow wow feels like the real Australian vast countryside in our own home. What a fantastic journey, thanks to you both for bringing it all alive and sharing it with us all. Until your next news. Take care. Much luv A Sue and all at The Farm. Xxxx

    • Thanks, it’s so great to hear from you and think that people we care about are sharing a little of our travels. Hope that you are all well at and around the Farm, maybe we can catch up while we are in Sydney. I’ll give you a call. Lots of love, Ol

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